When the South Tahoe football team kicks off its 2015 campaign, it will mark the start of a new era. Under the direction of first-year head coach Louis Franklin, the Vikings enter the season full of confidence and ready to be a factor in Div. I-A Northern League.
“We’re going to be competitive, and there’s not a game we shouldn’t be competitive in,” Franklin said. “I don’t feel there’s any matchup that we’re going to be severe underdogs in — we just have to play.”
Franklin is the 14th head coach in South Tahoe High School program history and takes over a program that hasn’t had a winning season since 2003. After finishing 2-8 last year, the Vikings aim to make 2015 a turnaround season.
“The perception has been pretty negative about the program, but we have a good group of kids and they’re hungry, stubborn and aggressive. Those are all good things,” Franklin said. “I think they can be overachievers. We want to kind of lay low and catch everyone by surprise this year.”
Since Franklin arrived in South Lake Tahoe in June, the Vikings spent the summer working toward the season. South Tahoe’s players bought into his plan and offseason program almost from the start — a program that focused heavily on conditioning and physical play.
“We weren’t sure in the beginning, but he came and got us pumped up and showed us his offense — we all bought right in, worked hard and it’s paid off so far,” senior receiver/defensive back Will Mori said. “We condition more, all of our players are a lot more in shape, and we can keep up with it.”
South Tahoe’s offseason included the installation of a completely new offense. Franklin’s uptempo triple-option spread attack is unlike anything run in Northern Nevada, and the Vikings feel confident in the new scheme leading into the season.
“It’s coming along great,” senior lineman Joe Albrecht said. “There have been some problems with mental mistakes, but we’re starting to sort those out.”
At quarterback, senior Mason Cain and junior Tommy Cefalu split time during the summer and will begin the season in the same fashion. The competition has been even throughout camp. Cain’s strength is his throwing ability, while Cefalu has athleticism that makes him a dangerous dual threat.
“They split reps right now and we’ve been keeping them both rotating in,” Franklin said. “We can win games with both guys, and we have to use that to create nightmares for defenses.”
Whoever is under center will have a handful of talented skill players at his disposal. In the backfield, senior Quinn Ritter will see a lot of touches while rotating with juniors Dylan Gooding and Jacob Bernal. And at receiver, seniors Mori and Zach Shearer — along with juniors Noah Jackson and Zen Contestable — will threaten opposing defenses whenever they get the ball.
“We’re really explosive,” Ritter said. “We just have to stay on our blocks and that’s how we’ll get in the end zone.”
Franklin said South Tahoe has approximately 40 percent of the plays that his team at Tokay High in Lodi, Calif., had last season, and expects that number to grow as the year goes on. For the Vikings to be successful they will need to establish the run — and the ground game has been a focus during camp and at the team’s scrimmage.
“I don’t think teams expect South Tahoe to be able to run the ball,” Franklin said. “I’m stubborn, and I want to make sure we can run the ball and be balanced.”
The Vikings have the talent to expose opposing defenses during the season, and play in the trenches will ultimately determine how far they go. Franklin spent a lot of time working with South Tahoe’s offensive line during the offseason, creating a physical mentality within the group.
“We have a couple new guys out and we have some weight and speed this year,” senior lineman Blair Binns said. “Overall I think we’re a better line and a lot smarter.”
On the defensive side of the ball, South Tahoe will have a slightly revamped look after retaining defensive coordinator Greg Ritter. The Vikings plan to run an odd-man front while playing fast and physical.
“They want to get better with what they do, so they’ve been changing some things,” Franklin said. “We focus on things we can control — effort, attitude and assignment. As long as we’re not giving up big plays, the defense is fine.”
A pair of junior linebackers will anchor the Vikings’ defense this season — Contestable and Andrew Herrera. In the secondary, Ritter moved from cornerback to safety where he has more freedom to use his athleticism while Gooding has been the team’s top cover player in camp.
“We want to go out there, hit people and get the ball back,” Ritter said.
South Tahoe hasn’t set a long-term goal for the 2015 season, and its objective is to finish 1-0 each week. But a top-four finish in Div. I-A Northern League and a playoff appearance is certainly on the players’ minds.
“It’s not the goal, but it’s there,” Ritter said. “We know it’s there and we just have to clean up everything, work as a team, work as a family and get things done.”
South Tahoe opens its 2015 season today against El Dorado (Placerville, Calif.) at Viking Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. League play begins the following week at home against Spring Creek.